It started as a bit of an experiment, but we have just successfully harvested our first crop of loofahs. I’ve tried to grow them a few times in the past, but to be honest have they have always keeled over with neck-rot at an early stage – not this year! I managed to get past the four leaf stage without losses and planted 10 of them in the bottom corner of the polytunnel. There were a few minor ‘accidents’ early on when my boys mistook them for large cucumbers that needed picking, but other than that they’ve quietly engulfed the bottom half of the polytunnel. If you decide to give them a go, make a note that they spread prolifically!!
Last week I decided it was time to clear the space for winter crops: mainly edible flowers that get battered by the south west gales when grown outside. Once I started rummaging around in the vines I was amazed to find 15 large loofahs , this was without the earlier ‘casualties’ and a fair amount of neglect. I’d never quite got round to feeding them as I’d planned to, and I’m sure an article mentioned pollinating them. Up until this point I hadn’t really expected results but then panic, I realised I didn’t have a clue about processing them.
I pondered on this for a few days, meanwhile, a quick survey of friends revealed that most people assume the loofah comes from the sea. But no, it looks like a cucumber except inside is a structure of cellulose fibres, similar to the fibres in cotton.
Now, how to turn the ‘cucumber’ thing into something you scrub your back with?
My first stop was cottage smallholder, a favourite blogspot and whilst they did have a blog about loofahs they weren’t growing any themselves. However their link to down to earth, an Australian blog had more information, and I’ll be checking this blog again. Although Rhondas advice was helpful, she recommended leaving them to dry on the vine or if you needed to pick them green to dry them out before any processing. I had tried drying one of our earlier casualties but it had simply rotted away.
A friend suggested an entirely different method and so with a sense of trepidation, we experimented. The first loofah was tentatively peeled and then in water we ‘milked’ it, squeezing the flesh and seeds out. It certainly got the arm muscles working and after some hard work, the end result was pretty good!
Faced with another 14, I decided to enlist the help of my boys, theres nothing like a large trug of water to attract children. This time, we skipped the peeling and simply cut the ends off before all that squeezing. I actually think this worked better, the skin seemed to protect the structure whilst the innards and seeds were squeezed out, it then seemed to naturally peel away. A few days drying in all that recent sunshine, finished the process.
On the whole, a success not only do we have some lovely loofahs to give away at Christmas, but thousands of seeds for next year!
Categories: Tips of the Trade
Tags: Christmas presents, Cornish, home grown, Loofahs